Note: This analysis and discussion reflects on episodes from a full season perspective. It is not intended to be spoiler-heavy, but there will be some spoilers throughout.
The Netflix all-at-once model is amazing, but it wreaks havoc on our standard discussion format. We’re not going to let that hold us down though. Now that Josh (here, here, here, & here) and Dustin (here) have completed their marvelous jobs insta macro-recapping THE BINGE we’re going to gradually release single episode recaps/discussions/dissections so we can all fully appreciate Arrested Development Season 4. Because it needs to be appreciated in a way some jerks will never understand.
Fair warning before we jump in: I’m a big fan of S4. Since the day Netflix made the revival announcement I felt Hurwitz & Co. would be working behind the eight ball thanks to both inflated expectations and logistics. That’s why S4 is such a remarkable triumph. The balancing act.
If Arrested Development Season 4 was going to fail it was going to fail by being daring and different and challenging the way a season of television is delivered. They weren’t going to fail by taking the safe route: leaning on fan service and trying to re-create what was magical about the first iteration of the show. A worse version of Community Season 4 was my biggest fear. I respect the hell out of all involved for avoiding this dilemma altogether.
The two biggest complaints I’ve seen are “It feels weird” and “I don’t like Michael now.” Lots more on the second to come, but regarding the first, I’ll admit it’s an acquired taste. The format hinders the first few episode from being excellent at first blush, but instead rewards viewers further down the road and on second watch. But aren’t the best things in life acquired tastes anyway? That’s how you know you’re being challenged. I’m certain the longer S4 is with us the more it will be compared to S1 than S3.
And that’s why we’re introducing this Beyond the Binge series. So we can cultivate our appreciation and let all the reactionary losers looking to hate everything at first blush hang out in their miserable corner of the internet. First Up: “Flight of the Phoenix” — the jarring Michael-centric episode that lays the groundwork for S4 and is exponentially more enjoyable on second watch.
Back to “What happened to Michael?” I felt the same way initially. But after a few deep breaths it all comes together. First, I believe Hurwitz wanted to shock the audience right out the gate and make it known this wasn’t the exact same show. Mission accomplished. But if you look back hard on the Michael Bluth we knew and loved you realize we were all kind of blinded by his own self-righteousness and slightly more grounded approach. There’s still LOTS of dubious, oblivious Bluth there.
The story of S4 to me is that Michael (perfectly analogous with the real estate crash) has gone Full Bluth and that his son is on the path to embracing his Bluth-iness. Yes, S4 is Empire in my opinion. Is it perfect? No. The shower scene in the episode is a miss. But it is great.
So let’s get to recognizing its greatness with all the little things you may have missed. I promise these intros will be a lot shorter going forward. In order they appeared in the episode:
All Things Phoenix. Sure, Michael Bluth has talked about Phoenix before, but “Flight of the Phoenix” takes all things Phoenix to the next level. Episode title, University of Phoenix, an actual flight to Phoenix. You’re all well aware the mythology of the Phoenix is that it rises from the ashes. I doubt Hurwitz accidentally included all these Phoenix references in the opening episode that was meant to jar the audience with how far Michael Bluth has fallen.
Young Lucille is The Grinch for Mexican Holidays. Most of you probably picked up a heavy Grinch vibe from Kristen Wiig’s first on-screen moment as a green-faced Young Lucille, coupled with Ron Howard’s suddenly Seuss-y narration, but maybe didn’t see the early signs of A LOT of Imagine Entertainment usage. Imagine produced the film version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
GOB’s “homo much?” insult example is a shortened version of the one that appears later in the season. Still a lot more fun when you know what’s to come.
George Sr. appears for a split second entering the the corner shop that sells Forget-Me-Nows as GOB is exiting.
“Stupid forgetful Michael” is a callback to GOB’s Michael labels like “Selfish Michael” from earlier seasons.
“I have tried family. It does not work for me.” Much like all the Phoenix references, Michael’s early opening line about his password at first blush feels like a callback to “What do we always say is the most important thing?,” but is really an early indicator that this is a much different Michael Bluth.
Twin Club. The dorm assignments cutaway to the Twins carries a lot more weight when you know the excellent Twin Club voting scene is coming further down the line.
Always Leave a Note. George Michael’s dorm room white board reminds us he still lives by the family credo.
George Michael Vs. Boy George. This moment/cutaway HAS EVERYTHING. George Michael acknowledging the many disadvantages of his name for the first time, soliciting sex from an undercover cop foreshadowing, and a “WeeBBC” callback.
“Just press TODAY.” The running bit about Michael’s phone being stuck in 2003 is just more reference to his own arrested development. Michael is still the same overbearing, co-dependent father he always was, just now with his son no longer in high school this act feels a lot less noble and a lot more desperate.
“Seaward matriarch.” Underrated mainstay John Beard is re-introduced to the series using one of my favorite callbacks to describe Lucille’s commandeering of the Queen Mary.
“You wouldn’t tip an African American, would you?” Obviously this Curb nod and one of the best bits in the episode did not go unnoticed, but on second watch it’s even more enjoyable knowing the groundwork it lays for the rest of the season. Almost every interaction with a black person from here on out contains at the very least the subtlest hint of confusion as to whether they should be tipped.
The Slow Character Reveal. As a nod to the format of the season, the apartment scene and Michael & George Michael’s empty chairs at the trial don’t reveal the rest of the family. In later episodes it is slowly revealed they were there/not there.
“That’s not a great sign.” Michael says spotting the vulture, but also has a double meaning to how terrible his “Home is where the house is” Michael B. company sign.
Lucille 2’s Checkbook. A closer look at Lucille Austero’s checkbook reveals not only her 700K loan to Michael, but also an $800 check for Cinco supplies and $325 for juice. Flavors include Legitimate Grape (!), Snappy Apple, and Sugarcane Plus.
“That’s a hot mess.” Michael referring to Lucille 2. The first of many “hot mess” uses of the season.
Sudden Valley. Also not something anyone missed, but I just really love these bad signs GIFs…
“Love each other.” Pete the Mailman’s last words are the same words that get used regularly throughout the season, mostly in a religious context.
Cera/Eisenberg. It’s a running joke that Michael Cera is regularly mistaken for Jesse Eisenberg and the two are often up for the same roles, so George Michael starting the anti-social network is pretty beautiful.
Outwest Airlines. The name and really everything about the airline and its magazine point to ambiguously gay confusion. Plus it gave us this incredible moment with P. Hound (great nickname).
The Attitude Magazine Cover. A closer look a the Attitude magazine cutaway gives us a Boy George-George Michael comparison headline AND a Tony Wonder: Outed Magician preview.
“And it’s adios, brothiero.” Michael on kicking P-Hound out. Callbacks to Michael still not knowing the Spanish word for brother AND the Bluth’s hereditary difficulties with the language in general (see: Cinco de Quatro).
Begging/Prayer Hands. The first of many usages of the gesture, which is always a bad idea.
The Altitude Article. A closer look tells us everything we need to know about current Michael. Delusional, clueless, and bad instincts to boot. He’s actually always showcased a lot of these qualities, the real estate crash has just magnified them all.
The Phoenix Airport Mural. At first watch it’s easy to miss that the mural next to the moving walkway depicts different scenes and imagery from the first three seasons. Full pics here. I’m partial to left-behind-in-Mexico Ann.
“For the first time in many years, Michael had hope.” As you can kinda/sorta make out on the top of the bus to the left, this was filmed at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank.
“Gentlemen, start your engines.” Michael doesn’t realize this is his sister Lindsay in the red wig when he drops this line while heading to his mother’s apartment. George Michael makes the same mistake and uses the exact same line later in the season.
The Banana Stand shirt. MORE SPOILER-Y THAN THE REST. This obviously isn’t in the order that the episode presented it, but I felt should be saved for last. There’s a lot of speculation as to why Michael had the banana stand shirt on after not previously wearing it when he met with Lucille 2 on the stair car. The narrator intros the scene with, “Later that night after Michael did something unthinkable…”
I think it’s safe to theorize that Michael didn’t actually sleep with L2, but instead was busy covering up whatever actually did happen to her (death?). And that cover up involves the banana stand. The Forget-Me-Now pill is not going to help clear things up.
I really see no way Season 5 (or a movie) doesn’t happen. Things were too purposefully open-ended for Hurwitz & Co. to not have this in mind. I’ll be back shortly for a full second watch recap of “Borderline Personalities,” which promises to not be as long as the one. The remarkable thing is this could have been three times as long.
Until then. Never forget…